When God was an African American Woman
Father, Spirit, Son each of these members of the trinity can invoke different characteristics and personifications. But they all concern the same being. I was recently challenged with the idea of relating to each member of the God head individually, allowing them to tend to a different part of my identity, bringing me into more awareness of the fullness of God. The same friend who introduced me to this idea bought me a book called ‘The Shack’ which follows the story of Mack who has gone through a traumatic experience, and learns how to meet with God in the midst of this.
After a rainy and WiFi-less weekend spent tucked up with this book, I can already see my it changing the way I understand my relationship with God.
I was struck, and immediately filled with excitement to read that the three members of the God head were represented in physical human form, specifically as black African-American woman, an east Asian woman and a middle eastern man, representing the Father, Spirit and Son respectively. I really like this personification, because it forces us challenge the stereotypes we build that suggest God is in his very nature male and white. Even though many of us as Christians would claim to believe that God does not take on one specifically gendered form, or one race, I know it is all too easy to fall into the trap of imagining God in those terms. Whe you think of ‘God’ its so easy to depict a man with grey hair and a beard, acting out the role of the world’s very own Gandalf and/or Dumbledore. When faced with these new images of God we are encouraged to prevent ourselves from ‘falling back into our religious conditioning and stereotypes’ (p93).
The Shack presented to me ideas that my friends have verbalized over this past year, one of these being that God is not limited to relating with me only through prayer and bible study. The knowledge that God can meet us in everything we enjoy doing, and even in the less enjoyable things we have to do is so freeing. It gives us space to live and love God with joy and ease, removing the burdens of guilt and the pressures of expectation. As Young writes, rather than being ‘first among a list of values, God want to be the center of everything’ (p207). We can spend time with God while cooking, eating, reading, writing, studying, laughing with friends, drinking coffee or wine… through all the things we do daily.
There was a tenderness in the way that God related to Mack, and helped him to uncover the roots that prevented him from being vulnerable in his relationship with God and those around him. The Holy Spirit was an ethereal woman, who seemed to dance as though never still and took great joy in gardening, specifically gardening people’s messy yet wonderful hearts. Personifying the Spirit gave me greater appreciation for her work, and desire to connect with her more as well as helping me to recognise that I too have a garden in my heart that I can prune, plant and enjoy with the help of Holy Spirit (p232) (p.s the image of our hearts being a garden is one of the many allegorical readings that can be given to the Song of Solomon in the Bible, apart from the obvious literal readings of the book…)
This book had me laughing out loud, gasping with joy, feeling excited for every interaction between the members of God, and the way God gently and playfully interacted with Mack. This excitement hasn’t yet reflected itself into the day-to-day reality of my life and relationship with God, but I want it to.
Young writes, that ‘love is just the skin of knowing someone’, in other words the deeper we know the deeper we can love. As a testament to this statement I’ve come expand ways of seeing God and this knowledge will expand my ability to love.